“Our laws are very far from what we need” – Interviews with feminist supporters of PFPPA’s work

Dr Sahar Qawasmi, Member of Palestinian Legislative Council

I have been involved with PFPPA for a number of years; I was instrumental in getting implants approved in Palestine as a method of contraception. I am a gynaecologist and fight for women’s rights so this is why I care about these issues. I have always cared about equality; I am the oldest of five children, the rest are all boys but my father brought me up to be equal to them. When I was asked to do stereotypical female tasks as a child, I refused if my brothers didn’t also have to do them.

Abortion is still within the penal code, which is very old, foreign and restrictive, there is an update that we would like to pass but it is still in draft form. Although abortion is provided when there is a major problem with the foetus, there are doctors who refuse even in these cases. The legislation is not clear which makes things harder.

We still don’t have a law that allows abortion in cases of rape and we see young girls who have been raped and can’t access safe abortion so end up having to give birth which is a tragedy. Our laws are very far from what we need.

Although the culture is restrictive, I think in Islam it is easier than Christianity, as in Islam it is believed that there is no soul for the first four months of pregnancy so for us it is much easier, we just need the regulations.

We need a model law for maternal health including abortion. We are already practising these services, without the laws when it is deemed necessary but there is no consistency and it is hard for women to access if the doctors refuse.

I think health and abortion is a right, only with access to legal safe abortion will there be fewer complications from unsafe abortion. We need more regulations, as we cannot continue as it is, with the doctor haphazardly deciding what they can do according to their own beliefs.

Abortion should be safe. We have to work together to achieve these things, we cannot make a change alone. I am proud to have been able to make changes in laws and policies at the international level but wish I could do the same nationally, if we had a working parliament, we would be able to make many more changes.”

*Dr Sahar is also vice president of the Arab parliamentary forum on population and development, board secretariat of the coalition of MPs forum from the Arab Region on GBV and a member of the board of international parliamentary forum on small arms and light weapons. She has also been instrumental in passing a law to allow women in Palestine to keep their names after marriage and a law preventing the forced hysterectomy women with downs syndrome and other learning disabilities.

Maysoun Qawasmi, Journalist

My name is Maysoun, I am a journalist, a feminist activist and a trainer in women’s issues in general. I am also a managing director in Wafa al Gins News, the official media agency of the Palestinian Authority. I have been involved with PFPPA for a number of years and use my position in the media to support their causes advocating for increased access to safe abortion.

I know many people who have experienced unsafe abortion. They try to use traditional methods as the law and doctors are against it. I have a friend she got pregnant at 44, she was really scared that the baby would have a problem that would really impact on her so she tried many ways to end of the pregnancy, she tried taking cinnamon and she jumped from a height. I was really worried that she would injure or kill herself.

That is the struggle we live with, the law is restrictive but if it were legal, she could have gone safely to hospital.

What we are trying to do is to change the law because prevention is better than cure. At the moment, all that we can do is try to alert the women and to teach them the risks of unsafe abortion but that is not enough, as they will continue to need and want abortions.

The topic of safe abortion is really important in our society in Palestine. I am not against religion, but I think that we need to discuss the different religious opinions and help women protect their health and prevent unsafe abortions. I want to avoid any risks to women’s health, that is my first priority. There is a large problem of unsafe abortion and murder of women who get pregnant following rape and the law does not fight against it.

We are campaigning to change this and I believe the campaign should not be a traditional one; we must target the base, particularly men. It is not enough to work just with women. Nobody cares about women, they think that reproductive health is useful only after marriage while they should care about it from the time they are born.